National Unity No.2 indicates party will soon leave coalition

Eisenkot: Israel needs elections this year; Netanyahu government must be replaced

War cabinet observer accuses PM of selling illusory slogans about ‘total victory’ against Hamas; says intensive stage of war should end within weeks; hostages must be returned

War cabinet observer, Minister Gadi Eisenkot, speaks at the annual Meir Dagan conference at Netanya Academic College, May 29, 2024. (Courtesy)
War cabinet observer, Minister Gadi Eisenkot, speaks at the annual Meir Dagan conference at Netanya Academic College, May 29, 2024. (Courtesy)

War cabinet observer MK Gadi Eisenkot accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of having failed Israel on matters of both security and economy while urging that elections be held by the end of the year in a stark indictment of the government that he is a part of.

“It is clear that this government needs to be replaced as soon as possible,” he said in an address at the annual Meir Dagan conference at the Netanya Academic College, adding that moderate voices in the government were becoming increasingly marginal.

Eisenkot suggested a vote be held sometime between September and December “to build the nation.”

In particular, Eisenkot criticized Netanyahu over the ongoing war against the Palestinian terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Eisenkot’s National Unity party, under leader Minister Benny Gantz, joined the government after Hamas’s devastating October 7 attack on the country that opened the war with an assault on Israel that killed 1,200, mostly civilians, as 252 people were abducted by terrorists and taken as hostages to the Gaza Strip.

Gantz is a member of the three-person war cabinet overseeing the campaign, while Eisenkot participates as an observer. However, Gantz became frustrated with Netanyahu and issued an ultimatum earlier this month, demanding that key policies be clarified by June 8 or he would pull National Unity out of the government.

Netanyahu’s Likud party scorned Eisenkot, saying in a statement that National Unity was playing “petty politics” and looking for a way to abandon the government.

At the conference, Eisenkot, whose son and a nephew were killed fighting in Gaza, panned Netanyahu for creating and pushing the “catchy slogan” of “total victory” against Hamas and said that a war against terrorism is one of endurance, rather than speed.

Israel, he says, has taken the tactical matter of Rafah, with three or four [Hamas] battalions, and turned it into a global hub and such a complex story. If we had [dealt with Rafah] at the right moment, with the right timing and with the right forces, it would have been a [relatively minor] tactical event.

He added: “Anyone who says that we’ll disband three battalions in Rafah and after that be able bring back the hostages is sowing false illusions,” he said of the operation in the southern Gaza city. “This is a much more complex event. The truth is that it will take three to five years to stabilize [Gaza], and then many more years to establish another regime” to replace Hamas.

Eisenkot said it is clear that the government that was in power on October 7 “failed utterly” and that the massacre carried out by Hamas that day marked “the greatest failure since the establishment of the state.”

The return of the hostages, he said, is both “the highest moral imperative of the state, which failed in the defense of its citizens, and a paramount strategic obligation.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the Knesset, Jerusalem, on May 27, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While there was a broad public consensus supporting the war at its start, eight months later “questions arise, and rightfully so, about how to end this war.”

Eisenkot said it was important that the intense phase of IDF military operations in Gaza end in the next few weeks “and then a date must be set for agreed elections. And if not — then everything must be done to bring elections as early as possible in a democratic way… It will be a choice between the approach of Itamar Ben Gvir, the most influential minister of the prime minister, and the approach of the current Knesset majority,” he said.

“To me, it’s clear that this government must be replaced, as soon as possible.”

While the decision for his National Unity party to join the government when the war started “was clear,” now “I can’t ignore that recently our influence has been reduced,” he said. “Political and other considerations have been inserted into decisions that we voted on behind closed doors.”

He said that he and two other ministers are misrepresented as “three traitors who want to stop the war: Gantz, [Defense Minister Yoav] Gallant, and Eisenkot, helped by [IDF hostage talks negotiator] Nitzan Alon, when inside the [war cabinet] room, the decision [on a possible framework for a hostage deal] was unanimous.”

“Have a little more patience,” Eisenkot said. “General elections are required between September and December.”

He also criticized Netanyahu for failing to achieve the promises he made in his 2022 election campaign — primarily to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons development, normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, strengthen Israel’s economy, and increase security.

The October 7 attack “was the greatest failure since the establishment of the state,” damaging Israel’s standing in the eyes of its enemies and reducing its deterrence, he said.

A state commission of inquiry into “everything related to October 7” must be established, he urged. It should investigate “the past 10-year period, including my term as IDF chief of staff… checking deeply into the conception” that led to Israel’s failure to thwart the Hamas massacre.

As for “the pursuit of peace with Saudi Arabia,” Eisenkot said, “it seemed like we were a step away from a peace agreement.”

“Today it seems quite far away, both because of what happened here, and also as a result of Israel’s decisions regarding the order of priority for its national interests,” he said.

Israel is widely reported to be rejecting a historic normalization deal with Saudi Arabia, brokered by the US, because it calls for a pathway to a Palestinian state.

Illustrative: Troops of the Nahal Brigade operate in southern Gaza’s Rafah, in a handout image published May 28, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

“I think that peace with Saudi Arabia and a new hierarchy in the Middle East is a distinct Israeli interest,” Eisenkot said, explaining that it would work to counter the nuclear threat from Iran.

“It is clear that Iran’s nuclear program is at its most threatening” since it was established, Eisenkot said, which he said is another failure for Netanyahu.

Finally, on the economy, he said that despite Netanyahu’s promises to reduce the cost of living, “it is completely clear that the trends are negative, and the predicted future is not encouraging.”

“It is absolutely clear that this government has failed miserably in realizing the overall goals it set,” he stated.

In response, the ruling Likud party said in a statement: “Eisenkot and Gantz are looking for excuses to end the war without achieving its goals, and to withdraw from the government in the middle of the war. Instead of engaging in the pursuit of victory, they are engaging in petty politics.”

National Unity, in turn responding to Likud, said, “Instead of leading to achievements following maneuvers on the battlefield, Netanyahu is maneuvering between political landmines and refraining from making decisions for the sake of the country. You don’t win wars with slogans.”

Last month Gantz also called for early elections to be held in September saying at the time it was necessary “to “maintain unity” and “renew trust” in the government. The last elections were held in November 2022 and the next vote is expected in October 2026.

Trust in the government plummeted in the wake of the October 7 attack, with polls showing little appetite among Israel’s public for returning Netanyahu to power should elections be held. International support for Israel has also waned as the war has dragged on, with Washington indicating little patience for Netanyahu and his far-right allies, Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit. An April poll found that nearly three-quarters of Israelis think Netanyahu should step down, either immediately or right after the conclusion of the war, and that half want early elections.

Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of the hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza outside the Defense Ministry Headquarters in Tel Aviv, May 25, 2024. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 36,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, though only some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals. The toll, which cannot be verified, includes some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Two hundred and ninety-one IDF soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border.  A civilian Defense Ministry contractor has also been killed in the Strip.

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